AT this year’s Communication Workers’ Union conference, delegates will have an opportunity to lay down a marker for the next Labour Party leadership election. A motion proposed by London and Manchester branches calls for the CWU to “only nominate, support or encourage members to vote for candidates in the next Labour Party leadership election who support the principles of Trade Union Rights as outlined in the proposed Trade Union Freedom Bill and are also committed to keeping the Post Office in 100% public ownership”. It also calls for CWU-sponsored MPs to nominate a candidate who meets this criteria.
At the moment, the leaders of the Labour-affiliated trade unions are keeping their heads down, despite the fact that a leadership contest is getting ever closer. By keeping quiet, the unions leaders aim to ensure a Brown succession. The stifling of democracy in the Labour Party and the weakness of the Labour left mean that there is no realistic alternative to Brown unless the unions organise.
Of course, Brown is not even slightly better than Blair. The Blair governments’ economic policies have been overseen by him. He was the architect of keeping Tory spending limits for the first two years, of PFI and privatisation, of the current massacre of civil service jobs. He is the Chancellor whose first act was to grant the state-capitalist apparatchiks of the Bank of England independence from even the minimal democratic oversight which existed under the Tories.
What is it that is stopping the union leaders from putting forward and campaigning for an alternative candidate? There would me massive support among union members, and in the working class generally, for a candidate pledged to implement at least the collective policies of the TUC and Labour Party conference. The bottom lines should be the reversal of marketisation in health and education, expansion of social housing, renationalisation of the railways and utilities and repeal of all anti-union laws.
The union leaders are afraid to act not only because they lack confidence, but because putting forward a left candidate would mean conflict with the New Labour government leaders – something which, as we know, they have devoted their lives to avoiding. But the whole point of unions having political funds is so that the issues facing our class can be put on the political agenda, so that workers can create a collective political voice in opposition to the parties of the ruling class.
What the unions do will determine whether this voice is heard, or stifled by Brownism for another decade. The alternative are a continuation of Blairism, and very likely a Tory government at the next election — or a fight for independent working-class politics.